Varisia in Shadows of Thassilon
The Shadows of Thassilon campaign takes place entirely within the boundaries of Varisia, a sparsely-settled region in the north-west of the continent of Avistan. Below is the common knowledge that anyone in the area, native or visitor, might be expected to know.
Ten thousand years ago, the lands that are now Varisia were divided among the seven squabbling kingdoms of Thassilon, an empire founded by exiles and renegades from Azlant, best known in the present era for the strange and rune-scribed monuments that still dot the Varisian landscape. Thassilon ended as Azlant did – in the cataclysm of Earthfall, as fire rained from the sky to usher in a thousand years of darkness.
When the skies cleared, the ruins of Thassilon were inhabited by tribes of nomadic Varisians and Shoanti – natives to the continent of Avistan whose ancestors had toiled as Thassilon's slaves. The region remained a nameless and isolated frontier until 4405 AR, a little over three hundred years ago, when the rising empire of Cheliax began its efforts to colonise the area. Chelish soldiers fought the Shoanti and drove them into the inhospitable northern wilds, but the colonists were able to build a more peaceful relationship with the local Varisian tribes, after whom the region was eventually named.
Varisia's most defining feature is the Storval Rise, a thousand-foot-high escarpment that cuts across the nation from the south-east to the north-west. South of the Rise lie fertile lowlands, deep forests, and the greater part of Varisia's population; to the north, the Storval Plateau is a harsh, arid, and unforgiving domain where giants, Shoanti barbarians, and orc tribes from the Hold of Belkzen do battle.
Bounded to the south and west by the Arcadian Ocean, to the north by the Kodar Mountains, and to the south-east by the Mindspin Mountains, Varisia's isolation is largely a result of its geography. Aside from travel by sea – a difficult prospect in the centuries before the founding of Korvosa and other colonial coastal settlements – or crossing from neighbouring nations via dangerous mountain passes, the only routes into Varisia are the Urglin Gap between the Kodar and Mindspin ranges, leading east into the Hold of Belkzen, and a stretch of stony coastal moorland in the north-west of the region, beyond which lies the Land of the Linnorm Kings. Both are dangerous territories, guarded fiercely by outlaws and marauders.
Two human cultures have historically dominated Varisia: the hardy, clannish Shoanti, and the nomadic Varisians. Chelish colonists make up a third, prominent human group, though most of these colonists arrived from Cheliax during the Age of Destiny, before the rise of House Thrune and the fall of Cheliax to diabolism and the veneration of Asmodeus. Of the non-human races, the elves of Varisia are most numerous in the Mierani Forest in the north-west; the dwarves, in the citadel of Janderhoff in the foothills of the Mindspin Mountains; and the gnomes, in the Sanos Forest of southern central Varisia. As a frontier region, Varisia draws people from all corners of the world in search of new opportunities, hoping to make a fresh start, or fleeing the dangers of their past.
Though dotted with villages, small towns, and the occasional larger settlement that has grown up around a particularly interesting ruin, Varisia's three largest cities are all coastal settlements that owe their existence to the Chelish colonisation effort.
The largest city in Varisia was founded in 4407 AR as a fortress for Chelish soldiers and settlers and a base from which the subsequent colonisation efforts could be launched, but has grown in the intervening three centuries into a bustling and cosmopolitan centre of trade. Korvosa's markets are likely the wealthiest in Varisia, but since the dawn of the Age of Lost Omens, the city has lost some of its splendour and status to the rising power that is Magnimar, and its rulers now eye the younger city with undisguised envy. Korvosa is home to roughly 18,500 people.
Founded shortly before the death of Aroden and the beginning of the Age of Lost Omens, Magnimar's star began to rise in 4608 AR when thousands of dissidents abandoned Korvosa for a new life free of Chelish influences and loyalties. In the century or so since its founding, Magnimar has expanded quickly, claiming nearby villages as its holdings and founding its own colonies in turn. The city's population now stands at roughly 16,500 people.
Varisia's third-largest city began as a haven for pirates, tucked away at the northern end of the Varisian Gulf. Colonists arriving from Imperial Cheliax to expand the newly-opened Varisian frontier were the prey of Riddleport's early pirate kings, and though it has since grown into a mercantile hub in its own right, the city retains a roguish atmosphere and is a haven for brigands and scoundrels of all sorts. Riddleport's population numbers roughly 13,300 souls.